Thursday, 10 May 2012

Free Men (2011) @ Les Hommes Libres

Tahar Rahim plays Younes, a cigarette-smuggler in Nazi Paris
turned Moslem saviour of Jewish kids.
At a glance:
A staff favourite accordin to the Twitter handle for the 20th Toronto Jewish Film Festival where I watched this, French-Moroccan director and scribe Ismaël Ferroukhi's Free Men @ Les Hommes Libres (2011) is a spy drama apparently inspired by true events in WWII Paris where an Algerian immigrant found himself drawn to a local mosque that was secretly passin off Jews as Moslems in an attempt to save them from bein rounded up by the Nazis.
Bad news on the doorstep:
Now you can hit me on the head with a menorah but I don't think you need to be a expert on North African Jewish and Moslem fraternity to know that any movie about Moslems savin Jews will come across rather off. A review on Guamdiary has it that the director's "conceit has become controversial; his theme is based on oral history, anecdotes and some written testimony" and that Algerian-born Jewish historian Benjamin Stora has acted as an advisor. However, let's leave the divisive elements out of it for a minute and concentrate on its artistic merits. For this, one has to concede that while Free Men is technically sound, its humourless narrative gives it away as a laborious, politically-motivated assertion that isn't goin to win too many fans.
Perennial wonderment:
When will the Arab-Israeli war end? Bein a Malaysian (pro-Palestine government, no diplomatic ties with Israel), I jumped at the chance of attendin somethin like the Toronto Jewish Film Festival which is bein held at a cinema just a stone throw's from where I live. Better yet, bein a Chinese-Malaysian, no Jew here would think I'm an Arab suicide bomber, right? However the experience was strange for an entirely different reason - I was the only person among some 300 whose average age must be 105 years old. Everyone had white hair and those who don't, didn't have any. One in five walks with a cane. Where are all the young people hidin?
The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Watch out for:
Tahar Rahim's masterful nuances. Great restraint every time, never needin to be wordy. Un Prophète (2009) must have been an industry benchmark in how to appear uneducated, hungry and likeable - all at the same time. 
Most memorable line:
One of the Arabic songs sang by a disguised Jew had the English line "everywhere you go, OK OK, come on, bye-bye". I guess a take on the Americanisation of the world. 
Amacam joker, berapa bintang lu mau kasi?
This doesn't have the class or the tenacity of somethin like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011). Plenty of promise in several scenes but the tension keeps bein underplayed. Michael Nordine writes that: "For much of its runtime, the film is simply there, decent for the most part, but at no point immersive." Still, Tahar Rahim's strong screen presence makes it an excitin enough watch for me. Three stars.
Trailer for the curious:

Bonus material:
This nice lady is a TJFF volunteer. 
She must have thought I was a lost tourist.